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US Navy & Asbestos: Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer Among Veterans

US Navy & Asbestos: Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer Among Veterans

Memorial day honors those who have died while in military service to our country. However, thousands of Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos may pay the ultimate sacrifice years, even decades, after their service.

Mesothelioma or lung cancer usually develop twenty, thirty, or even more years after exposure to asbestos. The long latency period between exposure and the development of asbestos-related diseases (ARDs), means thousands of veterans may be injured by their service, long after their active duty ended.

Asbestos was so commonly used in ship building, that it is estimated that anyone who worked on a ship after 1930 was exposed to asbestos. Some four and a half million men and women were exposed at shipyards during WWII alone. Despite studies throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s connecting asbestos to lung cancer and mesothelioma, the US Navy continued to use and push asbestos.

Shipyard and Shipboard Asbestos Products

  • adhesives
  • bed blankets
  • boiler relining bricks
  • caulking
  • ceiling tiles
  • cement
  • dry walls
  • gaskets
  • gloves
  • floor tiles
  • packings
  • paint
  • pipe insulation
  • radiator fittings
  • rope
  • structural supports
  • tape
  • wall and ceiling sprays
  • wallboards

Used in shipboard applications such as packings, gaskets, tapes, and caulking, asbestos spray insulation applied to pipes and other surfaces is perhaps the largest culprit of Naval asbestos exposures. Not only are Navy vets who worked with spray insulations at risk, but anyone working in close proximity to those spraying or working with asbestos are also at risk.

The idea that asbestos was closely linked with safety was fostered by the war effort and exploited by industry making a profit off of its use. In 1952, the passenger liner the SS United States made its maiden voyage, setting a new record for fastest Atlantic crossing. Also notable was the widespread use of asbestos on the ship:

[The ship] was full of blue and brown fibre. In addition to bulkhead insulation and Marinite boards, the lounge chairs, cushions, sea chests, curtains, and even bedding blankets on that ship were made from asbestos. (McCulloch & Tweedale, p. 30)

The US military was not wholly ignorant of the risk posed by all this asbestos; in 1943, the US Navy Department issued Minimum Requirements for Safety and Industrial Health in Contract Shipyards. Recommendations for respirators, appropriate ventilation, a separation of dusty work environments, and regular medical exams for workers were made. These minimum requirements, however, were rarely met or not met at all.

Despite an awareness of the risks, as late as 1971, the US Navy was the largest American user of asbestos. Thousands of US veterans who have served their country have developed mesothelioma and lung cancer as a result of their military asbestos exposure.

“While asbestos was used in many branches of the military,” asbestos attorney Dave Chervenick notes, “the vast majority of veterans we help served in the Navy. On ship, asbestos was virtually impossible to avoid.”

For more than 30 years, GPW has been helping veterans and others injured by asbestos. However, adding insult to injury, there are time limits on filing a claim. If you have developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, do not delay in contacting an asbestos attorney with your questions. Otherwise, your rights may be limited or even lost.

Brave men and women know they risk their lives to serve and protect our country. However, that risk should not extend decades beyond active service. As a result of their asbestos exposure, veterans are losing their lives 40 years or more after their military service ends.


Brodeur, Paul. Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial. 1 ed. New York: Pantheon, 1985. Print.

Mcculloch, Jock, and Geoffrey Tweedale. Defending the Indefensible: The Global Asbestos Industry and its Fight for Survival. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008. Print.